SUBJECTS: Social cohesion; Liberal-backed proposal to weaken Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act; Newspoll; Public transport; ChAFTA; TURC



MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATION, SHADOW MINISTER FOR CITIZENSHIP AND MULTICULTURALISM: Good morning. Since Parliament last met we have unfortunately had an incident occur in Western Sydney where an innocent person was killed by a young person who has been the subject of investigation for what is quite clearly someone being penetrated by religious fanaticism, but what I would prefer to call terrorist fanaticism. We have a situation where the community is on edge, both people of Muslim faith and other people in Australian society. At this time it is important to recognise some of the basic principles that underpin our successful multicultural nation, and that is that we respect one another, that we are indeed a multicultural society of different faiths, from people of different backgrounds, that we are a migrant nation. It is therefore most concerning that we have seen incidents such as those that occurred in Bendigo over the weekend where people have chosen to assert, in the face of all these things, quite intolerant and quite bigoted views. These views have no place in Australian society. It is important to reject them outright.

On that note, I see that Prime Minister Turnbull has been talking a lot about respect. He will have an opportunity to put some of those words into action this week. We have listed in the Senate the amendments to the Racial Discrimination Act and in particular, Section 18C, which has been proposed and co-sponsored by some senators, including members of his own government. It is high time that Prime Minister Turnbull pulled into line his own government members and reject any attempt to water down Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. It is important, in light of everything that has happened in the last week or so; the tragedy that happened in Parramatta, the ongoing issues that are occurring in our society by people who have displayed and continue to display bigotry, it is important that we set an example, here in Canberra, every one of us and know that what we say here matters in our communities.

JOURNALIST: Are you comforted by the fact the Coalition and Labor are locked at 50 per cent in the latest Newspoll?

ROWLAND: I think that it might come as a surprise to some that the fact that Malcolm Turnbull toppled the most unpopular Liberal leader, and probably one of the most unpopular Prime Ministers in living memory, that we are still at 50/50. I would make this point; we may have a bloke in a better suit but the policies haven’t changed. We still have someone who wants to pursue eating away at penalty rates. We still have someone who wants to pursue $100,000 degrees. We still have someone who supports the discredited Direct Action policy on climate change, a policy that he himself derided when he was deposed as Opposition Leader those years ago. We have someone who talks a big game, talks about respect, waxes lyrical about everything, but we are yet to see him actually implement some of these big things that he’s talking about. On the contrary, he’s playing catch up on Labor’s policy including in areas like infrastructure.

JOURNALIST: Things move slowly though and he has started, there was funding for public transport yesterday.

ROWLAND: Indeed and this was a Labor initiative which he is catching up on. I see Malcolm Turnbull catch public transport - catch trains, take selfies. Where I live in Western Sydney, catching a train isn’t an amusement ride. It’s called getting to work. If this Prime Minister was serious about dealing with issues of public transport, congestion in our cities, and urban growth, then he needs to make a serious commitment and he needs to take up many of the suggestions that Labor has put forward. So in fact, I’m pleased to see him play catch up. I just wish he’d catch up a lot quicker.

JOURNALIST: Malcolm Turnbull has extended his lead even further over Bill Shorten as preferred PM. Are you worried about Bill Shorten’s popularity?

ROWLAND: It’s hard yards in Opposition. We are doing the hard task of developing our policy and making sure that we have the right mechanisms in place to come into government. I think there is no tougher job than being Opposition Leader but let’s remember this: Bill Shorten has already seen off one Prime Minister in this term. He’s already made sure that Labor is in a most competitive position after a devastating loss in 2013. We should never forget the scale of that loss. The fact that he has managed to lead a united team, unlike Malcolm Turnbull who gets jeered at his own Liberal party conference in a very big way, a very public way as well, I think speaks volumes for the difficult task that Prime Minister Turnbull has ahead of him.

JOURNALIST:  Just on the free trade China deal, where do you see Labor landing on that over the next couple of days?

ROWLAND: We’ve always said that we support free trade. The Labor party was at the forefront of extending our relationship with China, going back through history and having free trade agreements under Labor governments. We have said all along that what we want is to ensure that we have appropriate labour market safeguards in place. Now Malcolm Turnbull has the opportunity here to distinguish himself from Tony Abbott, and that is to listen to the logical arguments and come forward and have an arrangement in place where we don’t only have free trade in place, but also those labour market protections that we are seeking.

JOURNALIST: How damaging will the resumption of the royal commission be this week for Bill’s leadership?

ROWLAND: The royal commission is an $80 million taxpayer funded witch-hunt and it is nothing more. Bill Shorten has always said that if there are more questions to be answered, if they want to grill him any more, then go for your life. I have absolute confidence in Bill Shorten’s ability to see this through. Thank you.